Nazareth's Malik Poe-Roland (22) celebrates a sack during football game action between Nazareth at Marist. Oct 11. Gary E Duncan Sr for Shaw Media.
Nazareth's Malik Poe-Roland (22) celebrates a sack during football game action between Nazareth at Marist. Oct 11. Gary E Duncan Sr for Shaw Media. — Gary E Duncan Sr for Shaw Media

Teddy Olander could have left Nazareth to start at quarterback for a school that doesn't have J.J. McCarthy.

Or just play his best sport, baseball.

Olander, a Nazareth senior, instead chose door number three – stick around and help at a new position.

He approached Nazareth coach Tim Racki shortly after last season to pitch his services.

"Obviously I knew I would be the backup quarterback," Olander said. "I was like, I want to help the team no matter how I possibly can. I went up to coach and I said if you ever need me to play defense, I'm there. Summer camp went well and I decided to stick with it."

The Roadrunners are glad he did.

As much as stars like McCarthy, Tyler Morris and Riley Theobald, it's the unsung heroes – guys like Olander and speedy defensive end Malik Poe-Roland – that has Nazareth back in the Class 7A quarterfinals and a rematch with Batavia Saturday in LaGrange Park.

Olander, strictly McCarthy's backup as a junior, was invaluable in the Class 7A final as McCarthy nursed a broken thumb.

Still the No. 2 quarterback, he's now playing safety and cornerback for a defense that has held seven opponents to single digits.

"I could name off at least 10 schools in the area that Teddy would start at quarterback. He's a really good quarterback, and a team-first guy," Racki said. "He just loves playing the game. He's got a huge amount of respect on this team."

Olander split reps at quarterback with McCarthy on the sophomore team two years ago. He admitted that he considered quitting football when told the summer of 2018 that McCarthy won the varsity job.

"It really hurt me because I had been working so hard; my dream was to be the starting quarterback at Nazareth," Olander said. "But it's helped me be a better person, to stick with it."

He played defensive back a bit as a sophomore, but other than that hadn't seen time there since the seventh grade.

Olander could play receiver if Nazareth needed him, and still gets reps at quarterback in practice to keep those skills fresh.

But he's taken to defensive back. Olander had a huge game in Nazareth's big win at Notre Dame, and intercepted a pass the following week against Benet.

"He's very intelligent, picks up coverages, is real good at reading routes and studying formations to see what team's tendencies are," Racki said. "Having that intelligence helps with his ball skills. He's a really confident athletes."

Olander's experience at quarterback clearly helps.

"As a quarterback I can see what they're doing on offense and anticipate things," said Olander, who has played more cornerback recently. "On film I can see what route combinations they run and try to predict where they're going before their receivers."

Poe-Roland, likewise, has found a home at a new position on Nazareth's defense.

A linebacker his first two years of high school, Poe-Roland was approached before his junior year about moving to defensive end.

"I'm more of a speed rush type guy," Poe-Roland said. "I told him whatever I could do to help the team. From then on I started working at end and made it my home."

Racki said Poe-Roland always played with plenty of fire, but this year he really popped. Surrounded by more high-profile guys on the line like CJ West and Ryan Keeler, Poe-Roland had his coming-out party in the win at Notre Dame.

"They have a great quarterback, and Malik just played out of his mind that night," Racki said. "He was always confident but watching that tape, he's really come into his own in terms of athleticism and speed at the defensive end position. That allows us to use Ryan on the inside. Malik has been a great surprise."

He's also become a guy who can play the run as well as rush the passer, which will be crucial against a team like Batavia that runs the ball so effectively.

"They always have a strong run game, but this year they really got the run game going," Racki said. "They do remind me of us with multiple formations, multiple sets. Their offensive line, their blocking schemes, they give you a lot to prepare for."

Olander and his teammates are prepared for a motivated opponent, after Nazareth beat Batavia 47-28 in last year's 7A semifinal.

"They look really good, but mostly we're just focused on Nazareth. That has been our motto all year," Olander said. "Every game, climb the stairs one step at a time, getting better every week. We focus on us instead of other teams. That's really helped us."